More poems by Wadih Sa’adeh.


Wasting time,
he sketched a vase.
He drew a flower in the vase.
Perfume rose from the paper.
He drew a jug.
Having sipped a little water,
he poured some over the flower.
He drew a room
with a bed,
then he slept.
When he awoke
he drew an ocean,
a fathomless ocean,
which swept him away.

— Wadih Sa’adeh
translated by Anne Fairburn

The Dead Are Sleeping

They were innocent people.
They would caress their children’s hair in the dusk,
dropping off to sleep.

They were innocent, simple people,
sweating during the day and smiling.
On their way home they would pause before shop windows,
measuring with their eyes the size of children’s clothes,
then walk on.

They would take one step
in the early breath of dawn
to touch the tree trunks.
During January frosts,
while they were watching,
some branches would bear fruit.
Their scythes yearned for the fields,
the air in the village was waiting for their cries.
Suddenly their wheat became ribs,
the breeze and grass, rooted
in their bodies.

They were innocent, simple people.
Every evening the sun slid its silky mantle
over their souls.

— Wadih Sa’adeh
translated by Anne Fairburn


The last thing he saw
was the cat, seeing him off at the door.
He had locked the door but he returned
and unlocked it,
so neighbours could enter as always,
if they wished to do so.

— Wadih Sa’adeh
translated by Anne Fairburn

There’s a disconnect between the Middle East and the West: Wadih Sa’adeh is a highly regarded writer in Arabic, but in the West he’s almost unknown.

The poems above are from “A Secret sky”, a book of Wadih’s poems translated
from Arabic by Anne Fairburn. It’s a sad book, very gentle: about the war in Lebanon, the dead, the dispossessed and the refugees.

I met Wadih several times, at my friend, Fassih Keiso’s home. They would be drinking coffee, tea or Arak, speaking mostly Arabic. I would plunk away on the guitar, then we would converse in English for a while, then back to Arabic and plunking. It was all very relaxed and very normal, but special, too. He’s a very nice gentleman: extremely interesting and intelligent, with a deep, soft voice.

Sometimes you know people; you just think of them as people you like: it’s easy not to realise how special and precious moments are. You may feel a real bond of love or friendship with someone; spend time with them, that you enjoy very much; all the while living in the illusion that this is your normal life, that can be enjoyed at leisure, again and again.

Then, suddenly, maybe sometimes after the briefest of acquaintances, that phase of your life is cut short; gone forever.

The ironic thing is, during this time, we were discussing “The Secret Sky,” that had just been translated, and the theme of so many is the poems is just that: how life is full of seemingly ordinary moments are really something exquisite and rare, that at any time could be cut short, by death, disaster, or just …ordinary events. Then you look back, much later, and something that seemed so ordinary at the time you realise in distant hindsight, was something quite beautiful.